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Tanya Navigator

What Is the Tanya About?

What Is the Tanya About?

Photo by Oneinfocus.
Photo by Oneinfocus.


What is the theme of the Tanya? I was just introduced to the book by a Chabad neighbor, and I’m considering exploring this new area.


Mazel tov on your discovery of Tanya.

Tanya is the foundational work of the Chabad movement. It lays down the practical and mystical fundamentals of the Chabad philosophy. It was authored by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The major theme of Tanya is the ubiquitous Identity Crisis.

There are days when one indeed feels inspired by Judaism and spirituality, and there are days when they are a real bore. There are times when nothing seems more important than studying Torah or praying, and there are times when nothing seems greater than a steak and a good ballgame. There are moments when one is disgusted by the world’s immorality, and there are moments when one is tempted by it.

So, who are we? Are we to ignore our beastly temptations, or come to terms with them? And how is it that people possessing a G‑dly soul can be filled with such animalistic desires?

It is Tanya that guides us through our dual personality. It gives us the insight to understand and overcome the struggles we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Yes, we have a Code of Jewish Law that clearly tells us how to live every aspect of our life. But, even assuming we can keep the laws perfectly, there’s more. We would still be missing a key ingredient in our service of our Creator.

My behavior may be perfect. I may do exactly as I am told. But it’s not really me. It feels superimposed. There’s still me, and there’s my Torah.

Tanya teaches how to bridge that gap—to create a unity between my Judaism and my inner psyche. It makes my Torah and mitzvot a true representation of my personality. It allows me to truly feel—not merely act—like a Jew.

But allow me to make the following important points:

Tanya is not an easy reader. It takes concentration and dedication.

Tanya is not instant inspiration. It contains no short stories or pearls on the weekly Parshah.

Tanya is not a quick fix. It’s a journey that takes time and energy.

Tanya is a long-short road. It may be lengthy—but when you arrive, you’re truly home.

Tanya is a pair of glasses. When used correctly, everything will look different.

Tanya is a heart. It will pump life and energy into your Torah and mitzvot.

One more point. Studying Tanya properly requires a teacher who is versed in the subject. If you read it in its original Hebrew, or an English translation, you will only be scratching the surface. First of all, Tanya is replete with mystical terms which the uninitiated in this area will not understand. A skilled Tanya teacher will explain these terms and, more importantly, make them practical and relevant. Second, layers of meaning are hidden behind each word.

Speak to your local Chabad rabbi to arrange Tanya classes. If this is not possible, I would recommend you purchase Adin Steinsaltz’ wonderful books on Tanya, Opening the Tanya and Learning from the Tanya. You can also study Tanya online, using Lessons in Tanya, which does offer some help for the layman wishing to navigate Tanya’s deep waters.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Ask the Rabbi team.
Photo by Oneinfocus. Oneinfocus is committed to educating and inspiring people on a global scale, using photography and other forms of visual technology to spread Torah, Chassidus and positive life values.
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Norman Hauptman Meditation February 2, 2016

What has the Lubavitch movement written about the human ego? Also RebbevSchneerson Reply

Gene Bellvue Colo December 20, 2013

Would Tanya be a start for a new jew? Have not began yet. Have studied some Perka Avote, little Kabbalah, mostly Parshas & siddur. Would it fit & would my foundation be enough to understand? More commentary is always welcome. Reply

Evan J. Dukofsky Florida November 21, 2013

Thank You For Your Introduction. This really answered reservations I had about re-learning Tanya.

Without a doubt, This teaching solidified my day school education. I know I experienced tehillim differently after studying here in Florida by learning with Rabbi Moshe Denberg.

Tanya made Hebrew School make sense to Me.

Bracha Hatzlacha. Reply

Moshe Rogoff Burke, Virginia November 20, 2013

R. Adin Steinsaltz' books on Tanya These books (actually a trilogy) are great. They appear however to be out of print? Very difficult to buy at almost any price! Some Chabad Houses may have a copy in their library; to quote an oft used phrase "consult your local Rav!" Reply

Avigayil Chana Boston, MA July 1, 2011

The word "Tanya" "Tanya" means "we have learned", and it comes from the Talmud -- Niddah 30b, which says, "We have learned, 'An oath is administered to him [a baby before birth]: 'Be righetous and not wicked, and even if the whole world tells you that you are righteous, regard yourself as wicked.''"

Then the Tanya says this contradicts Avot ch. 2, which says, "Be not wicked in your own estimation."

And from there, the Alter Rebbe begins the Tanya. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hilsl, ma June 30, 2011

after a long hiatus It's interesting I just got an email from Chabad about the Tanya. I never got an answer to my query about the name.

But this is curious, I just got an email from a very sweet friend who cares for my animals when I am away, and her name is close, being, TONIA.

Maybe this sounds really quirky, to email about this, but I am experiencing massive language connects of all kinds, using the aural in languages, by listening carefully to words themselves. I say all names and naming is connective. Maybe the connective tissue that binds us all.

I will have to investigate the Tanya since so much good is written about this, and I never have looked into this. Reply

Avigayil Chana Boston, MA June 30, 2011

To Gene in CO Hi Gene... I have been learning Tanya for ten years now with my Chabad rabbi.

Did you start yet? How is it? Can you answer your own question yet? Reply

Gene Bellvue, Colo USA December 29, 2010

Tanya? Can anyone tell me? Were not our teachers of old Avraham, Prophets , Cohen, all those who were early scholars wise men? can't we go back to the teaching they passed on and contain the original Torah without having to introduce another sect? Or are we just explaining foundational Torah in another way so it will be digestible to today's people? Reply

morris demel san juan, p.r. December 29, 2010

I like the introduction Reply

Joseph Harker virginia beach, va November 27, 2010

Freud and Tanya I really wonder if Sigmund Freud was influenced by a Rebbe who explained Tanya to him? Reply

yehudis is the best brooklyn, usa November 26, 2010

RE:Tanya, posted by Gene i think he is right, although i understand why people would want privacy. i think they should make up a fake name. i always post the same name on all my comments. i would also love to learn tanya even though i barely speak yiddish Reply

Gene Bellvue, Co USA November 24, 2010

Tanya All so overwhelming to a man of 60 just opening the door.
I have seen so many anonymouses here. why so? Have decided to post my name so if anyone responds to my inquiry I will know who you are communicating to. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 23, 2010

The Tanya Thank you for explaining the Tanya, because I always wondered having seen this word, but never quite knew.

I think all text is imbued with layers of meaning and we all find this is true, and also, when we come back to any text, with the experience of years, we see that text differently. And words and phrases have echoic connects. I think it's very important to go deep, when we are ready, because there's an excitement to this and always, More.

As to new glasses, I see we're all wearing filters, to shut out sun, or the light. We take in knowledge according to our unique filters and story. It could also be said, as in sunglasses, we shield ourselves, or there is an unconscious shield from too much light, until we are ready, and the pupil can make accommodations.

I see deep and ongoing metaphoric connects in all life, and that language is, the key.

What is the origin of the name, Tanya? Reply

Anonymous Santa Fe, NM November 21, 2010

Tanya Love requires courage, faith and devotion are ancillary? Or should this be a question? Reply

Anonymous January 10, 2010

A great poetry to read!!!! Beter than $ to read!!!!! Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, NY January 10, 2010

nice I love it! It explains so clearly!!!! Reply

Anonymous June 14, 2007

For those of us who have had the privelage to study Tanya can tell you this is the bridge that enables you to grow not only in mitzvot and Torah but in helping one to deal with all the dalily encounters one has in life. Reply

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